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Crime.Justice & America - Editorials - Our Criminal Justice System…Is it about Justice? Is it about the Money? Is it about Power? Or is it about all three?

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 Our Criminal Justice System…Is it about Justice? Is it about the Money? Is it about Power? Or is it about all three?

Our Criminal Justice System…

Is it about Justice? Is it about the Money? Is it about Power? Or is it about all three?

By Ray Hrdlicka - Publisher

I have repeatedly said that every action undertaken by human beings, with very few exceptions, is all about the money. The acquisition of money, the expenditure of money, and the opportunity cost of money.  Yet when we talk about our criminal justice system, it is often spoke of as an exception to human influences, set apart by the rule of law and all the associated codes, regulations, and policies enacted over the past 200 plus years, so that justice can prevail.  Well, in reality, even though I think it is the most democratic system of any country, our criminal justice system is a business…and a BIG business.  So the question is whether justice can still prevail, in the end, inside the big business of our criminal justice system. Or does the money and/or power negate that exception, leaving us at the mercy of those persons already in positions of power and money?

Think about the people involved in the criminal justice system.  Let’s start with over 11 million people arrested each year for either a felony or a misdemeanor.  Add millions more to that number where victims are involved.  On the law enforcement side, there are over 780,000 police officers working in more than 12,000 departments across the country.  Add all the non-sworn civilians working in those departments to the total.  Now, onto the court systems, where we can add Judges, Prosecutors or District Attorneys, Public Defenders, Court Clerks, and more civilian personnel.  Of course, once in court proceedings, we have to add private defense attorneys, and all their support personnel. After the case is over, we have to include correctional officers in prisons or jails, as well as probation and parole officers.  Did I forget anybody?  Wait, yes I did.  All of the above people I just described are working within the criminal justice system at the county and state level.  We have to ADD all those same positions at the Federal Court level. 

Other than the people arrested and the victims of crimes, everyone else earns their living from the criminal justice system.  But that number is still well into the MILLIONS.  I don’t know of any business that has many millions of people employed, do you?  With that number in mind, how is it possible to remove our natural human reactions from the equation in order to avoid influencing the system itself?

Well….you can’t.

Judges are supposed to be impartial, yet similar cases have resolutions greatly varying between judiciary of different states, divisions, and courts.  Sometimes resolutions can even vary by the same Judge over periods of time.  Selective enforcement by a Prosecutor is another example of obvious human influence. Overall, at each point in the criminal justice process where a decision must be made, the very real possibility exists for subtle undue human influence that will irreparably change the level of “justice” ultimately dealt.  It happens every day.

Now, I have a cause and effect question.  The mass media loves to present facts about how many people are currently incarcerated (roughly 2.2 million) as well as how many people have a criminal record (80 million).  More than any other nation.  But which side was the catalyst to reach those numbers?  The millions of people who earn their living from the criminal justice system or the millions of people processed through the system, whose numbers are necessary in order to justify the employment of those working inside the system.  The cart or the horse?

So let’s add another variable to the mix…power.  As the title of this blog asks, is the system all about justice, money, power or all of the above?  Does the criminal justice system attract people for jobs because they want to serve justice? Or is it attractive because of money?  Or, lastly, does it attract people because of the power? 

It’s a good question to ponder.  Federal Judges are appointed for life.  In theory, that position could claim immunity against campaign influences, cronyism, etc.  State court judiciary either must campaign for office or receive a term appointment.  An argument can be made they may be subject to outside human influence within their own sphere of influence, as reported in the news from time to time.  Or, is it simply a stepping stone to a coveted more powerful position in the future?  An attorney recently told me about a judge’s ruling on his motion, seeped in power gone awry.  Seven previous judges (each different jurisdictions) granted the attorney’s motion on the exact same issue, but the latest judge ruled against him, forcing the expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars and probably a year delay.  So I asked him the question…was the decision simply a reflection of the power inherent in that position?  And he honestly didn’t know…

One last roll-your-eyes, head-shaking in disbelief situation.  In the criminal justice system today, over-crowding of jails and prisons, lack of funds, budget cutting, and lawsuits seem to be consistently in the top issues of the day.  Cities, counties and states are doing everything they can to save money.  Private prisons, outsourcing personnel, reducing benefits, and cutting overtime are just some of the changes ongoing in the system.  But the following situation reeks of cronyism.  One county in California does not even have Public Defenders on staff.  Instead, they contract with select private criminal defense attorneys in the county to represent defendants.  Being curious, I researched the terms of the contract and learned the pay scale rates were nearly consistent with the general public marketplace for criminal defense attorneys (thus treating the county as a general client), and more importantly, the attorneys were able to retain and continue their private practice without any restrictions!  Not only was the county decision dreadful as a higher rate is now being paid for criminal defense services, but this county is actually funding the marketing and development of those attorneys’ private practices with tax dollars.  Really?

Maybe Jerry Maguire was right…..”show me the money”.

This entry was posted in Editorials.
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